How many voters does insurance broker Frank Senger of Newport Beach, Calif., represent?
"No way will I be voting for Mitt Romney," he insists. A Republican and a lifelong Baptist, he abhors the thought of voting for a Mormon for president and says "there's more to it than just some prejudice. It bothers me a whole lot that someone that bright could fall for the stories about where Mormonism came from, and all that blather about the golden tablets. If he'll fall for that, do I want him in the same room and at the same table with Kim Jong-il of North Korea or Ahmadinejad from Iran?"
Senger also wonders about "why Romney's changed so many of his positions on key issues. Just seems a little too convenient at this stage of the game for him to become so conservative all of a sudden on abortion, on homosexual marriage-even on some economic issues."
Mitt Romney, of course, has heard that often this year. He's read the polls that say 25 percent of all American voters-or worse yet, a third of all Republicans-won't even consider voting for a Mormon for president. And he's responded so often to the "flipflopping" charges that he probably could do that in his sleep.
In a late April interview with Romney, WORLD asked: "The Apostle Paul is famous for saying that if the historical facts don't back up Christianity, then his teaching-Paul's teaching-is worthless and the Christian faith is futile. Would you be willing to say the same thing if it were shown that Joseph Smith made things up? Would it be fair to conclude that Mormon teaching is also worthless and futile?"
Romney was quick to answer. "I'm not going to take that hypothetical-OK?" he said, almost curtly, then softened. "I'm no Paul," he added modestly.
But for all the controversy over the candidacy of the 60-year-old former governor of Massachusetts, who potentially could become the first Mormon president of the United States, Romney is very much in the race. Analyst and columnist Peggy Noonan (who makes no effort to hide her own support for unannounced candidate Fred Thompson) proclaimed Romney winner of the May 3 GOP debate in Simi Valley, Calif., that featured all 10 active candidates. "The statuesque Mr. Romney," she wrote, "had a certain good-natured command, a presidential voice, and a surprising wiliness. He seemed happy to be there, and in the mysterious way that some people seem to dominate, he dominated."
Some GOP voters seemed to agree: Among New Hampshire primary voters, Romney drew 31 percent of the vote to Giuliani's 23 percent and McCain's 22 percent in a poll following the debate.
Things are, in fact, so positive around the Romney camp following the debate that you'd never guess their man-even after six months of costly, energetic campaigning-has regularly lagged well behind Rudy Giuliani and John McCain in overall polls. Never fear, say the Romney people. Of the "big three" candidates, theirs is the only one whose numbers have actually improved in recent weeks. The Giuliani boom has crested, they believe, and the wave of McCain support left over from the 2000 campaign is proving that it is just that-a leftover.
But no one knows for sure whether the dissipating Giuliani and McCain support represents potential for Romney, or if it is more likely to seek out other potential candidates like Fred Thompson, Newt Gingrich, or one of the so-called minor candidates (Sam Brownback, Jim Gilmore, Mike Huckabee, Duncan Hunter, Ron Paul, Tom Tancredo, and Tommy Thompson)-none of whose poll numbers have yet passed the 4 percent level.
Yet this much seems certain: If there is to be credible movement in the Romney polling numbers, it will have to come from skeptics like Frank Senger. No one can up front write off a quarter or maybe even a third of his targeted constituency and expect to win. Which is why Romney for some months now has been going out of his way to build bridges to the camps of evangelical Christian leadership.
The effort has borne early and surprising fruit. After the campaign invited a dozen hand-picked evangelical leaders (including Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jay Sekulow, and Gary Bauer) to the Romney home near Boston for a three-hour get-acquainted session in November, reassuring word began to spread that in spite of his Mormonism, Romney is an OK guy. The Southern Baptists' Richard Land was not at that meeting but has left the door open, saying "We're not electing a theologian-in-chief."
Romney insists that Mormons and evangelicals have "values that are very much the same. We could look at each other's records for protecting life or preserving traditional marriage and for strengthening families and see that we are on the same page in terms of the direction needed for America."
Some evangelical leaders agree: Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, told WORLD that Romney is "a very attractive candidate. While I have deep theological differences with him, I am more influenced by his values and how they would play out in public office. I don't make endorsements, but he has got a lot of appeal."
Skeptics wonder how Mormon theology connects to those values. WORLD asked Romney: "What one or two issues do you wish evangelical Christians understood better about your Mormon faith?" He replied, "Nothing jumps to my mind," with the clear suggestion he'd rather move on to other matters.
But Romney detractors are not so eager-even if they're willing to set aside the Mormon affiliation-to ignore the issues on which Romney has switched positions over the last few years.
As recently as 2002, for example, during his gubernatorial campaign, Romney said about abortion: "I respect and will protect a woman's right to choose. This choice is a deeply personal one. Women should be free to choose based on their own beliefs, not mine and not the government's."
Two weeks ago, his statement was very different: "It's my hope," he told WORLD, "that you'll see the Supreme Court return to the states the authority to create their own laws regarding abortion. The one-size-fits-all Roe v. Wade decision was wrongly decided, and I look for the court over time to provide to the people and their elected representatives of the states the right to protect life as they feel appropriate."
Asked to explain the shift in his thinking, Romney attributed the change to his changing political roles: "It's one thing to consider something as a citizen. It's another when you're actually responsible for the people of a state and you see the impact of abortion practices on the people of that state. . . . My change followed a lengthy debate regarding cloning and embryo farming associated with stem-cell research. And it became clear to me that we had so cheapened the value of human life through a Roe v. Wade mentality that it was important to stand up for life."
Harder to discern are details surrounding apparent shifts in Romney's positions on marriage, civil unions, adoption rights, and protected rights for homosexuals. That discussion has led to the formation of a whole anti-Romney protest industry in Massachusetts called "MassResistance," an organization that pumps out reams of documentation to show how far to the left Romney has been on such issues. No one, even in MassResistance, charges that Romney has ever favored approving homosexual marriage, but conservative opponents say that his cautious role in the appointment of judges in Massachusetts has left the homosexual lobby stronger there than it would otherwise be. They criticize his statement, in regard to the Boy Scout ban on homosexual leaders, that "all people should be allowed to participate in the Boy Scouts regardless of their sexual orientation."
And then Romney still has to live down his infamous statement, while debating Ted Kennedy in a 1994 race for the U.S. Senate, that he was "no fan of Ronald Reagan conservatism."
His own team agrees he probably tried too hard a few weeks back when he should have passed on a question about his experiences as an outdoorsman and hunter. "I've been a hunter all my life," Romney expansively assured his listeners. By the next day, though, he had to admit he had gone hunting only once or twice in his life.
So Romney's conundrum is this: On the one hand, he has to persuade folks that his Mormonism isn't a really serious issue. Speaking at the Simi Valley GOP debate, he stressed that it's not Americans, but America's enemies, who find religion a divisive matter. "We don't choose our leaders based on which church they go to," he said. "The people we are fighting [overseas], they are the ones fighting over religion."
But then, after persuading skeptics that he's not radical about his faith, or that it's not really as weird as it may seem to some observers, he has to convince them at the very same time that he is serious about his conservatism, and that he's not a johnny-come-lately to the core principles of the party.
It's a tough balancing act-even for a deft politician like Mitt Romney.
Age: 60. Born March 12, 1947, in Detroit, Mich. Son of George Romney, a U.S. auto executive, governor of Michigan, cabinet member, and candidate for president.
Married his high-school sweetheart, Ann Davies, in 1969. Together, they have five sons and 10 grandchildren. Ann Romney was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998.
The Romneys are active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, otherwise known as the Mormon Church. He served for 30 months in his late teens as a missionary of that church to France.
Attended Stanford University, then graduated summa cum laude in 1971 from Brigham Young University. In 1975, finished with graduate degrees in law and business from Harvard University.
Served as a business consultant, then took management roles with various investment companies, building a personal net worth estimated at $500 million. Headed the financially troubled 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, leading to a fiscally profitable conclusion.
Lost a 1994 race for the U.S. Senate to incumbent Ted Kennedy. Ran successfully for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, but chose not to seek a second term in 2006. Announced his candidacy for president of the United States in January 2007.